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Leadership, Lean, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Management, Stability, Teams

Did you just build the wrong team?


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No-one goes to work to do a bad job.

Sometimes it may feel that way but really… they aren’t!
Some people may be in the wrong job, someone may be having a bad day, they may have a completely different agenda to you but 99.9% of the time they aren’t trying to fail.
So why do technology teams so often fail? How can we be so bad at ensuring that technology teams actually succeed?
Well my team and I have been pondering this for some time. We’ve been working on something called ‘Team Genes’. Looking at the genetics of what makes a good team so that we can replicate this for our clients. This is my current stance on the subject..

If we built software like we built teams we wouldn’t be so surprised at the outcome.

Organisations consistently go about building project teams with no purpose, design or thought behind them at all and wonder if they have built the wrong team later down the line. The usual process is this:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Jill is an X
  3. Jill is available to do X (sort of)
  4. Bill meets Jill
  5. Bill and Jill get along
  6. Jill joins the team!

So imagine the same in the software process:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Acme’s product is an X
  3. The organisation already bought 20 licenses of Acme product
  4. Bill uses Acme product for an afternoon…and he likes it!
  5. Let’s roll out Acme tomorrow!

So let’s break down where Bill went wrong on the product front and then maybe we can learn how he goes wrong on the people front..

  1. Bill’s assertion that he needed an X wasn’t really challenged by anyone.  (Ring any bells?)
  2. The organisation is already familiar with a product so it decides that’s enough to be a contender.
  3. Hence, no-one goes out to look for any other options thus assuming the organisation’s first choice of product was a good one.  Note that the requirements have had a cursory glance at best.
  4. Bill’s happy so let’s go!

The dangers of choosing a software product in this way are that:

  1. An organisation repeats its mistakes time and time again
  2. Politics tend to rule over substance
  3. There is no strategic relationship built with the supplier or investigation into common values and goals.  Hence, the organisation may find the vendor giving them less value over time.

And most CIOs would laugh at Bill.  Silly Bill.  Rash Bill.  And yet the product that Bill was assessing was worth maybe, 10K a year in licenses.  (These days probably a lot less).

But the person that Bill is assessing in the first example is going to cost the business between £200 and £800+ PER DAY!! People often cost between 10 – 20 x more than software does and yet we use MORE RIGOUR in choosing the former than the latter!

Here’s where you might be thinking the following..

This doesn’t apply to my company as we always create job specs for all roles

Newsflash.  A job spec isn’t a requirement.

Do we write a product spec when we go looking for software?  Hell no! We write user requirements.  We state the problem and not the solution.  (Well most of the time anyway).  A person specification would be something like this.. “My name is Bill.  I’m a busy Product Owner with a day job and I’m currently writing all my own user stories.  It would be great if I had someone who could reduce the team’s reliance on my time by creating user stories for me.  I could then spend the time I do have with the team answering their day to day questions about business processes.”   Yes the answer might be to get a business analyst in.  Or, it might be to utilise the test team differently.  Or, it might be that the Dev team lead is totally happy to help out here.  Unfortunately, because we are so used to the status quo we leap to the solution in the blink of an eye.  This is partly because we want our problem solved and partly because in most people’s hiring process, the quickest way to get your problem solved is to ring up an agent and say,

“I want a business analyst please.  For the rest of the project. 3 months would be good and I want them ASAP please”

Let’s look at the next part of the process.  Jill is available.  So Jill is suitable.  That’s the problem with hiring ASAP.  Suddenly there’s a drought for the thing you need the most.  So we look at who is available.

Are you now throwing things at your computer?

Of course I only hire people who are available!!  Why would I do anything else?

Well this point is kind of related to the last one.

Sure someone may not be available, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you.

Being lean is about minimising waste and waste (when applied to people) comes in the form of under-utilisation.  But how many companies truly assess this ruthlessly before going off and hiring?

Finally, let’s look at the 3rd part of Bill’s process.

He likes her.  He hires her.

Well here’s where I can totally disagree with you.   We hire people using personality assessments as well as those for competency.

Okay not bad.  What if Jill hates doing X? Wants to move away from X and you are just making her do more Xing?? We rarely find out if people are interested in roles just whether they are competent enough.She might be good at it sure but is she passionate about it?

Last but not least, Bill and Jill may not even be working together to produce the same stuff. Jill gets parachuted into a brand new team and left to fend for herself. We used to let software out of the packaging to fend for itself but we soon stopped that. We realised it was insane to impose software on people without due care and attention and yet this is exactly what we do when we impose one person on a whole group of people and vice versa.

Doesn’t that sound a little insane?

How about we do this instead?..

  1. Write a problem statement not a job spec, rather like we do for products
  2. Let the team interview the person rather than their prospective manager or someone who ‘knows’ about the area in which you are hiring
  3. Test where Jill naturally sits in a team and assess if Jill would clash with anyone else or whether there is still a gap.
  4. Ideally do an assessment of your team before you hire ANYONE.  Then you can use this information to inform your choice of both role and the type of person you need.
  5. If they are costing more than around £8K per month, try them out for an afternoon.
  6. Be prepared to accept a failure has occurred – fast – and take action if necessary.  People are rarely fired for swift action provided it’s backed up by evidence.

But that sounds a bit of a long winded process.

Really?  How many hrs did you spend interviewing people last week?  You probably did at least 3.  That’s 3 hrs of your time.  That doesn’t include anyone else’s either.   HR?  Your boss?

We think life’s too short for endless interviewing.

So.. here’s the news.  Magic Milestones can set this up in under 24hrs and it saves time beyond just the first hire.  No-one gets near us without a competency check anyhow so that bit’s done.

To be a member of the Team Genes club our people are tested all year not just when you ask for their services.

Using a different method of hiring is brave.  We know that people’s habits are hard to change.  Why don’t you start the ball rolling and find out more here.

In the meantime, I’m just going off to help Bill out of a fix..

 

 

Entrepreneurship, Failure, Investment Management, Philosophy, Product Management, Strategy, Teams, Uncategorized

The Boy and the Starfish


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When the tide is coming in..

You need a team or a consultancy that can focus on solving one problem at a time.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

Author Unknown

 

agile, Failure, Investment Management, Lean, Project Management, Project Office, Scrum, Strategy, Uncategorized

Why do only 2.5% of companies successfully deliver 100% of their projects?


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PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed 10,640 projects worldwide and found that only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.

Is this because people are incompetent?   It’s a sad look out for man kind if so.  However, the reality is likely more complicated..

  1.  People can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time http://bit.ly/1etgh4B so as organisations are made up of people, that applies collectively to organisations as well.
  2. The more time we have to do something the less we achieve.  Take Kickstarter projects as just one example http://kck.st/1VjLaSi  Kickstarter changed the maximum length of a campaign from 90 days to 60 days in 2011 after realising that campaigns that ran for the full 90 days were successful only 24% of the time much less successful than shorter campaigns (over 44%).
  3. As humans we naturally radically under or over estimate what we can achieve.  Unlike pigeons(!) we use contextual information which can lead to biased judgments of interval duration, thereby reducing the precision of these estimates.  http://bit.ly/1XDbbKU

This is why at Magic Milestones we work on 3 themes:

  1. Creating a stable focused team Agile Experts
  2. Focusing on ‘the next right thing’ Lean PMO
  3. Creating a delivery culture using Lean Start-Up and Agile techniques.  Using hard data as a basis for predictions and planning we baseline performance then improve an organisation through  Consultancy & Training

Read more about why we do what we do via Our Story

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Making delivery a habit rather than a fluke


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More and more people are arguing that agile doesn’t work..

Even more people argue that – we’ve been doing this anyway! It’s the old stuff re-packaged!

Whatever your view, one thing is clear.  Delivery needs to become a habit not a fluke. If one agile project can’t be delivered to the satisfaction of stakeholders and customers alike, then it sure as hell means that none of the others will totally be either.

Agile is about practise but it is also about doing a certain number of things in a VERY disciplined way.  The problem we have today with the proliferation of the ‘expert’ on the internet, (self-proclaimed ones mostly) is that the academic foundations of agile/ Scrum/ Lean are often ignored. Without the proper homework under-lying these methodologies, there is a weakening of them that leads to a dilution at scale.  This is why the proper training is so important.

What’s more, lip service to an agile way of working is not good enough either and will not lead to a delivery culture.  Agile challenges the command and control manager.  If the organisational culture incentives this way of working then there is little hope for Agile to flourish in this environment.

Empowerment is an easy word to write but a very hard thing to teach.  Empowerment comes from changing behaviours and this is what many who start on the agile journey don’t recognise up front.

Here is the guide we suggest for the agile journey:

1. Observe what’s broken and also what’s working well

2. Baseline where you are

3. Work with senior executives on culture and prioritisation of projects.  Gain buy in.

4. Build a course that gives everyone a common understanding

5. Create champions

6. Coach and follow up as necessary

Check out some of my colleague Fiona’s ideas on embedding empowerment: http://www.valuingyou.co.uk/

 

But I have to agree with these guys:

http://www.netobjectives.com/blogs/why-agile-may-not-work-you-lean-agile-will

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/04/17/the-case-against-agile-ten-perennial-management-objections/

http://r-stylelab.com/company/blog/software-product-development/12-fatal-mistakes-in-agile-development

Consultancy & Training, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Office, Stability, Strategy, Teams

Why the “Intrapreneur” has self-discipline beyond any entrepreneur


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Eric Ries (the author of ‘The Lean Start Up’) has written that people can apply entrepreneurial principles within the corporate world.  “It’s not ‘intrepreneurship,’ it’s not ‘like entrepreneurship,”’  Ries says.  “Corporate entrepreneurship is regular entrepreneurship.”

In a recent Birmingham meetup we had a great conversation around this..  One of the things that came out of the discussion was that people in the corporate world actually face a set of challenges that largely come from over-resourcing.  If you think about it, there is a pattern, a path that many have already walked.  However, the intrapreneur needs to reject this path.  Why?  Well, because if they walk it, they just fall into the same trap as everyone else in their organisation.  They are unlikely to change the outcome by doing what everyone else has done before.  If a project manager, a product manager, a DBA, a front-end developer, a back-end developer, a tester, a designer, a UX specialist etc. etc. all get hired straight off, this is fishy to me.  Someone is hiring the Rolls Royce Team for a Fiat Punto job.  However, if the smallest possible team is hired and later skills are begged, borrowed or stolen then this is the equivalent to acting more like an entrepreneur would.  Sorry… I will amend that.  This is tantamount to acting like an entrepreneur should.

However, entrepreneurs are only human.  Just like everyone else.  People like people. Entrepreneurs don’t set up businesses to sit around by themselves.  They want a team around them.  In fact having met and talked to well over 100 of my fellow business owners over the years..  I’d even go so far as saying they NEED them.  So even entrepreneurs, with their tight budgets, cash flow constraints etc. etc. are prone to a little ‘pushing the boat out’ when it comes to hiring people.

But what about Intrapreneurs?  Well, I have to confess here that I haven’t ever been an intrapreneur but I have worked alongside many people tasked with the job of making something work.  Generally, something other people have failed at.  Although they all had the best of intentions I can think of more than a one or two who decided to hire based on the standard template.  And who would blame them?  Entrepreneurs are constrained by the fact they HAVE NO MONEY.  Much of the time it hits their own pocket!  Yet they still OVER HIRE!!  I have done this.  Many times.  It does not end well.

So who can blame the intrapreneurs for acting in the exact same way?  The only difference being that they have more money to waste.

Hence, the actions of an intrapreneur must be more measured, more calculated.  Their resistance to following the status quo must be second to none.  They must have the grit to be able to deliver on a shoestring with all the risks involved.

They are putting themselves in the line of fire by acting in the best interests of the organisation.  WOW.

To me, it kind of feels like an intrapreneur needs to be way more disciplined, way more entrepreneurial, than the entrepreneur ever was.

Stephanie Chamberlain runs Magic Milestones Limited, which is a Delivery Management Consultancy.  She is a serial entrepreneur, published author on Agile Methods and a visiting industrial fellow at Aston Business School.